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The Book Thief

The novel gives us a gripping account of Nazi Germany in 1939.

Ever pictured Death as anyone other than the Grim Reaper? Or it showing a considerable amount of compassion for the lives that it snatches away? If you want an honest and soulful account of World War II through the eyes of Death, then Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief is a book which will definitely succeed in doing so. The novel is set in 1939, in Nazi Germany and essentially revolves around nine year old Liesel Meminger. The story begins with Liesel and her brother being taken to live in a foster family just outside Munich in a town called Molching. Their father has been taken away as he is suspected of being a communist. However while making the journey to the foster home, Death visits Liesel’s little brother and this is when he first notices her.

After that Death has many encounters with Liesel, and each time he is more fascinated with the little girl and her shining spirit. Liesel’s first act of thievery is when she finds The Gravedigger’s Handbook by her brother’s graveside and decides to keep it. She soon begins her life with her foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann, who take quite good care of her. She’s especially close to Hans who she calls ‘papa’ and he is the one of teaches her to read. Soon Liesel’s bond with books grows stronger and she finds them at unexpected places like a Nazi book-burning session and inside the local mayor’s house. Her life takes a dramatic turn when her father takes in a Jewish refugee Max Vandenburg and lets him stay in the Hubermanns’ basement… Liesel’s friendship with Max flourishes and Max begins to chronicle it in a series of sketches, as well as two homemade books for Liesel. All of Max’s books are made by painting over the words in a copy of Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf.

There are many other touching and though-provoking moments in the book. Liesel’s relationships with her papa, with Max and her best friend Rudy Steiner are all special in their own way. The images of the Jews being taken to the concentration camp, of Liesel being forced into a Hitler uniform and Liesel’s numerous encounters with Death are all poignant and moving. Zusak’s generous use of vivid imagery and multiple metaphors gives the book a certain depth which touches a chord with readers of all age groups. What makes the book stand out from all the million other books on the Holocaust is that it provides us with a German view of World War II; moreover any story from a child’s perspective has an innocent touch which makes it all the more appealing. Check it out if you’re ready to read a lengthy and moving account of Nazi Germany during World War II.

-Aditi Kotwal

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